Friday, September 28, 2007

Pornography issue taken to Augusta Board of Supervisors

Travis Smithdeal approached the Augusta County Board of Supervisors at Wednesday night's meeting and asked that they put strict ordinances in place to restrict "adult" businesses from moving into the county and to avoid a circumstance such as the city of Staunton now faces with the imminent opening of such a business.

To neighbors of the proposed Staunton adult store, this is no laughing matter. It is literally in their backyards and they want something done about it. Because no zoning ordinances are on the books -- such as limiting them from being near schools, playgrounds, churches, neighborhoods, historic places -- there is nothing to keep an "adult" business from setting up shop anywhere in the city.

If restrictions are placed on Staunton businesses, the next place for them to move is Augusta County. Some would like to ignore the issue but the demographics of the SWAC area are changing as more people move to the Shenandoah Valley.

There are some who laugh at citizens who are against a porn shop as if they were nothing more than a bunch of illiterate hicks. "What?" they ask. "Have you never heard of people enjoying sex?"

But they have not talked with those citizens who are taking this seriously. It is not a church issue or a political issue ... it is a community issue that affects neighbors and property values, and results in spin-off secondary concerns such as increased crime, increased drug use, increased crimes against women and children, and more.

Henrico and Chesterfield Counties are hardly prudish areas of the Commonwealth and, yet, they considered the issue important enough to set in place permit requirements and restrictive ordinances.

Hoping for proactive legislation, Mr. Smithdeal, the Republican candidate for Pastures District Supervisor, addressed the Board:
Thank you for being present tonight to hear our issues and concerns.

I am here tonight representing a substantial number of Augusta County residents, including 20 churches, concerning the unsavory topic of pornography. We have all seen how Staunton was blindsided by this porn shop and the citizens of Augusta County want to work with the Board to ensure the protection of families, children, and property from this menace.

Porn hurts families, increases crime, decreases properpty values, and has no redeeming value.

This is not, nor should it become, a political issue. Pornography offends both Democratic and Republican values. It undermines the morals which all of us were raised with.

I would humbly request from the Board of Supervisors that they write and enact strict ordinances which will help to protect our community from porn brokers' easy access to our neighborhoods.
There was no reaction from the Board at that time but when "Matters To Be Presented By the Board" came around, North River Supervisor Larry Howdyshell spoke up.

Mr. Howdyshell said, "Pornography is a concern," and then proposed that the Board send this issue to the Planning Commission and then take it up at their October 22 work session. He made a motion that they draft ordinances to restrict pornography or adult businesses in the county.

That was when an interesting discussion began between the supervisors.

Riverheads Supervisor Nancy Sorrells immediately brought up the 1st Amendment rights of the adult businesses, and deferred to county attorney Steve Rosenburg.

Mr. Rosenburg reiterated the 1st Amendment rights, and mentioned the secondary effects and studies, then outlined three regulations for this issue:

1) Planning Commission could amend zoning ordinances to restrict them to acceptable locations by restricting proximity to things like playgrounds, schools, etc.;
2) Require an "adult business" permit which would be issued through the sheriff's office;
3) Pass ordinances to prohibit public nudity.

The Board had ordinances in hand passed by Henrico County, some of the strictest in the state, which have been challenged in court and have been upheld each time.

Wayne Supervisor Wendell Coleman, while saying he wanted to be proactive instead of reactive, encouraged Mr. Howdyshell to withdraw his motion to give more time to research the matter before sending it to the Planning Commission.

Mr. Howdyshell reiterated that he wanted to do whatever it took to protect our youth, and to do whatever gave the best protection against these types of things.

Pastures Supervisor Tracy Pyles weighed in by saying the county had been in existence since 1798 and had not had a problem with this before, and commented that any kid with a computer could access pornography. He then said, "To think we're going to stop this vice with some ordinance is silly," and commented that it would just move it on down the road.

South River Supervisor David Beyeler suggested the supervisors didn't need to move so fast on this but should, instead study it and make recommendations. He then joked about locating a porn shop between two churches and filming its customers.

Mr. Coleman again requested that Mr. Howdyshell withdraw his motion.

Mr. Howdyshell again said that something needed to be done to restrict pornography outlets in the county.

Coleman: "Are you willing to withdraw your motion?"

Mr. Howdyshell, having no second on his motion, withdrew it. The issue has been scheduled for the October 22 work session.

Mr. Coleman said by phone that he needed to hear from county residents to know if they wanted something done about this issue so contact your supervisor if you want zoning ordinances to limit where adult businesses can locate in Augusta County.

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